2001 World Rally Championship Round 4: Catalunya Rally (March 22nd - 25th 2001) Back on the hard stuff! The early part of 2001 has given a tremendous boost to the title bids of Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi-Michelin who currently top...
2001 World Rally Championship
Round 4: Catalunya Rally (March 22nd - 25th 2001)
Back on the hard stuff!
The early part of 2001 has given a tremendous boost to the title bids of Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi-Michelin who currently top their respective points tables after the year's first three rounds. An all-new, WRC-specification car is due later in the year, but the Finn has already profited from recent improvements to his trusty Lancer to triumph in Monte Carlo and Portugal, while in Sweden he left the road as he attempted to clinch victory on the final stage. But then anyone capable of winning the World Championship four years on the trot is rarely happy to settle for runner-up honours!
Going into the first asphalt round of the year, however, the opposition has by no means lowered its guard. Ford's Carlos Sainz, for example, will be looking to keep the pressure on his Finnish rival by furthering his unbeaten run of podium finishes in 2001, while Peugeot-Michelin no doubt see the Catalunya Rally as a first class opportunity to get back into the big points.
It would effectively be foolish to underestimate the potential of the 206 WRC on asphalt after its one-two finishes in Corsica and Sanremo last autumn. And despite the team's lowly points count so far, it shouldn't be overlooked either that the defending champions have won one event outright this year (Sweden) and led each of the other two rounds at one stage.
It is also possible that the current form-book will be upset by WRC newcomers Citroën-Michelin. After its title-winning incubation period on the asphalt of the French Championship last year, the new Xsara will certainly be under close observation as it makes its maiden appearance at world level in Catalunya...
Meanwhile, with the latest evolution of the Hyundai Accent-Michelin also poised to make its asphalt debut this weekend, and with Skoda-Michelin returning to the scene of its first fastest stage time in the WRC, the scene is set for yet another thrilling showdown in the mountains behind Barcelona, a terrain where Michelin will be looking to build on a run of four consecutive wins... with four different manufacturer partners!
On the technical front
Tyres and the World Rally Championship
Like any tyre (car, truck,...), a World Rally Championship tyre has to fulfil a certain number of functions: grip, absorb, steer, transmit, resist. To be competitive, it must of course combine all these roles.
However, the specificity of each round tends to put the spotlight on one or sometimes two of these functions...
G r i p
Catalunya Rally: Grip
The opening asphalt round of 2001 is a timely opportunity to highlight the importance of grip on this type of surface that exposes cars to significantly higher constraints than gravel.
As the only part of the car in contact with the ground, tyres clearly have a fundamental role to play. This comes into sharp perspective when one considers that a 1/10th of a second gain per kilometre through tyre performance is equivalent to around 25 extra horsepower!
Centrifugal force generated at road level during hard cornering can be close to 2G! The opposing force - the force that keeps the car glued to the road - comes from the tyres. Or, to be precise, by the grip they provide.
This grip is generated by the excitation of the molecules of rubber caused by the coarseness of the road surface. Much less grip would be available on a smooth surface like marble.
For optimal performance, the compound must be sufficiently flexible to hug the asperities of the tarmac. However, over the more abrasive stages to the south of the Catalunya route, drivers are faced with the phenomenon of wear over long stages in hot weather.
In such cases, of the many parameters that influence tyre choice, drivers will place the accent on either high grip or resistance to wear. In the former case, judicious tyre management on the stage is effectively one of the keys to a top time.
This is a skill that comes with experience but one that repeatedly proves a winner over such classic tests as Gratallops.
Grip is generated by the reaction of the rubber's molecules over the unevenness of the ground. The tyre's pattern and dimensions contribute to grip by optimising the contact between the tread and the road.
The properties of tyres and the air they contain form an integral part of the vehicle's suspension, especially since the tyre is in the front line when it comes to soaking up obstacles on the road.
A tyre must be capable of responding instantly and as accurately as possible to the driver's instructions via the steering wheel. The construction and compound of the tyre directly influence the quality of this response.
Not only must the tyre transmit the vehicle's power to the ground, but its construction and pattern must also enable it cope efficiently with the effects of torque, be this positive (acceleration) or negative (braking).
Despite suffering repeated aggression due to the extreme running conditions (long distances at high speed, high temperatures, long groups of stages, rough ground), the tyre must conserve its performance characteristics over time.